If you’ve never saved a down payment for a house before, let me tell you right now – it’s not easy. Especially when you finish school with a bank balance of $5000 or less (which includes basically everybody!) Would you be surprised if I told you I saved for mine working a nanny job overseas?
As a 25-year old working mostly online as a freelance journalist and looking at buying a house in Philadelphia to live in with my boyfriend, I wasn’t quite sure where to start. Philadelphia is actually cheaper than many major US cities, but the requirement for a 20% down payment plus another $10,000 to contribute to closing costs meant that we needed around $50,000 to really have a chance of getting the house of our dreams.
So, I hear you ask, how did I go from having $2000 to saving $50,000 for our $200,000 home in just 12 months?
Actually, it kind of started with a little luck. I met a friend from high school who had just returned to the states from 2 years travelling. My friend, let’s call her Amy, told me about her experiences teaching English overseas over the last year. This seemed pretty normal, but Amy mentioned that she hadn’t been working in a nursery or in a school. In actual fact, she had spent the previous 12 months living in Dubai (UAE) and working with an extremely wealthy family. Her job title was ‘English nanny’, and the job itself seemed to be a mixture of English language teacher and Au Pair. It came with an after-tax salary of $5000/ month. Obviously, I was shocked and excited at the idea that these kinds of jobs were achievable. I made up my mind to do my own research, and I started browsing Google and reading up whatever I could find out about the different roles available teaching English across the globe.
With my degree in English from a good school in the US, Amy assured me that I would be able to find something suitable for myself. To add to this, a little more research online told me that you can absolutely find jobs teaching English if your qualifications include a degree in English or in languages, or if you hold a foreign language teaching certificate like CELTA or TEFL. Amy suggested to me that as a general rule, teaching English is a lot about personality – being well-organised, friendly, positive, flexible and raring to go are what is really needed. Having completed a full-time childcare course seemed to be enough to apply for overseas nanny roles, as nanny jobs are also ‘in demand’.
Needless to say the range of English language job options I found online was huge. I read about schools in Asia: China, Nepal and India that were looking for native English speakers. There were universities in Hong Kong and Korea, and school teaching vacancies in Thailand and Russia. But very few roles were advertising the kind of salary I was dreaming about, one that would allow me to save for my down payment.
I therefore headed to the website that Amy had used to find her own English governess job – www.jobsinchildcare.com – and found a variety of jobs from agencies with high paying jobs all over the world. I submitted my CV and filled in applications for quite a lot of different jobs in places like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Russia, China – even here in the USA.
Within a week I was contacted by 3 agencies who were interested in my profile and application, and after completing agency interviews on Skype and Zoom did 2 more online interviews with families. Before long I was flown out for a personal trial with a VIP family living in Dubai. The salary offered by the family was $350 per working day, $1750 per 5-day work week. I stayed in their family home for the duration of my one-week trial and met the kids I would be teaching, who were aged 5 and 6, to make sure we gelled.
In general, the daily schedule for the English governess job was enjoyable. I would be up early each day to make sure that the kids were up and out of bed, to send them for their breakfast, check they brushed their teeth, changed clothes and got their books ready for elementary school. I went in the car with a family driver to drop the kids off for their classes and then had some ‘me’ time during the day. Then, at around 4pm I would once again join the driver to go to school and pick the kids up again. I would generally check they had the right books with them and speak with their school teachers if necessary before returning home with them once again.
When we returned from the kids’ elementary school in the evenings, I helped the two children to do their English homework. We would have dinner together and we then usually spent free time together, going outside for walks, playing board games or reading together in English. Sometimes we watched movies before bed. The kids were sweet and well behaved (most of the time!).
My own personal time in Dubai was more enjoyable than I was expecting it to be. I met a lot of Europeans and other Americans working in Dubai for airlines and in other ‘expat’ jobs. I was able to go to the beach and swim in the sea in my free time. I made new friends and visited lots of the restaurants, bars and malls that Dubai is famous for. I even tried skiing on the indoor slopes!
And saving for my housing deposit actually ended up being quite easy to do.
In my contract we agreed that the family would pay me $1,750 per week.
I paid $400 per week out of this salary towards my accommodation – an apartment that was about 10 minutes’ walking distance from their house. For this price I managed to find a modern place to live that was fully furnished and had a small balcony, great to sit on for reading in the evenings.
I budgeted another $400 per week for my expenses – this was enough for me to splash out on occasional shopping trips or restaurant visits with my friends, or when my boyfriend came to visit (he stayed with me in my apartment for 2 weeks). I also went out for drinks with friends about once a month and flew back to the states for Thanksgiving.
This left me with about $950 dollars per week – almost $50,000 over the whole year. And that was it, my down payment was ready to go!
When I finished my year of work in August last year (wow – summers are really, really hot in Dubai!) I explained to the family that I would be leaving at the end of my one year contract. The mum was fine with it – she told me that in any case they were planning to find a language tutor to take over English lessons, and to make sure the kids kept up their language skills along with their increasingly busy schedule.
At the beginning of September I flew back to Philadelphia, and my boyfriend and I began house hunting! In a few short weeks we found a modern beautiful home with a small plot of land in the suburbs of Philadelphia, somewhere great for people thinking of starting a family, and we paid our down payment.
Honestly, without this job I would never have been able to save enough for my down payment – salaries are just not high enough in the US. With just the right background and only a year of hard work I did what a lot of my friends were only dreaming of at this age. I feel so grateful for the whole experience.
So for anyone who is well-organised, positive and ready for adventure – maybe this is a way you too can save the down payment for your first property. Keep your eyes open, do your own research, and remember that even if you aren’t a fully qualified teacher or a language graduate, you can study online for a TEFL or a CELTA. If you have a positive, friendly disposition, the right attitude and a good sense of adventure, you’ll have a great shot!